In February, LG launched its Optimus L Series Android smartphones. The range consists of three handsets: the entry-level L3, with its 3.2in screen, 800MHz CPU and 1GB of internal storage; the midrange L5 with its 4in screen, the same CPU and 4GB of storage; and finally the top-tier L7, which features a 4.3in screen, 1GHz processor and 4GB of storage. This last model has only just gone on sale, so let's take a closer look.
Initial set up
Setting up the LG Optimus L7 for the very first time was a confusing experience. With no SIM card, the set-up procedure is the standard Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 method, where you are required to enter a Gmail address and password, followed by the option of a credit card for app purchases. However, with a SIM-card, all that is offered is access to Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync or a regular Email account. Using these will not provide access to the features of a Google account, such as Gmail with its email, contacts and calendar functionality, or to a Google Play account for downloading apps.
It is possible, once the phone has booted up, to enter the settings menu and then add all the Gmail account details manually – a very convoluted way to do what is automatically done on every other Android handset I've ever used. Potential customers, both experienced and novices alike, will be expecting this Google login screen and it is a mystery why this has been left out.
The only consistency we found between the two procedures was the inclusion of joining a Wi-Fi network very early on in the set-up process. Access Wi-Fi is still a darn useful addition to the Android ICS initial set-up, as all the data is then synced from a fast connection without using your tariff's data allowance.
With all of the above in mind, I'd advise setting up the LG Optimus L7 without first inserting the SIM card, thereby guaranteeing a simple and familiar Android initiation experience.
The L series has taken design cues from the LG Prada 3.0 phone and it's clear that a lot of effort has gone into the aesthetics. The form factor of the handset does have a distinctive angular shape, and is finished with a textured rear and metal frame surrounding the front, all of which adds to the premium look. In terms of size, the L7 measures in at 127.5 x 69 x 8.7mm (HxWxD).
The L7's volume rocker button on the side and power button on the top are slightly raised from the chassis. However, the home button located beneath the screen is embedded into the fascia. Either side of this are the touch-sensitive buttons - 'back' on the left and the menu option on the right. These only light up when touched, keeping everything clean and discreet. This, once again, adds to the whole premium feel.
The positioning of the touch-sensitive buttons took a little getting used to and it will, no doubt, be the same for owners of older Android handsets. This is because the touch-sensitive buttons have been switched, so I'd often get the menu options when I meant to go back a step in an application. I soon adapted to this, but there was another issue relating to the position of the back button: the frequent deletion of emails. From inside a newly arrived email, I regularly touched the back button only to have deleted that missive, with a message appearing saying I had archived one email. This is down to the archive icon on the Gmail client being located right next to the back button and if you aren't precise in your selection, every email will be deleted, when all that you meant to do is go back to the main screen.
This new location of the touch-sensitive buttons is a feature of Android Ice Cream Sandwich and was first seen in the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, only LG hasn't embedded them within the screen – just positioned them outside of the display. This style has now been replicated by a good number of phone manufacturers, including Sony, in its latest Xperia range and HTC, in its One series.
This configuration is a more logical one than the version currently in use by the Android Gingerbread OS, especially when using the handset in landscape mode, as accessing the option button is now just off to your right, instead of awkwardly located below the home screen button. With many phones now sporting big screens, holding the phone horizontally in landscape mode is commonplace, so the new location of the touch-sensitive buttons is a boon to slicker operation.
As mentioned at the start, the Optimus L7 uses a 4.3in display. This is a WXVGA, 800 x 480-pixel, IPS LCD screen that is bright and sharp, but it's no Super AMOLED display when it comes to overall punch and vibrancy. There's also no automatic brightness setting, which is surprising for a handset of this calibre. This means you either set the brightness to high all of the time, just to guarantee optimal brightness, or constantly tinker with the screen settings to make sure an appropriate brightness level is maintained without killing your battery life.
The display interpreted touch requests well enough, offering a reasonable touch-screen experience with apps and on-screen text entry. This is more than can be said for the 1GHz single-core processor that LG has used. In short, I found that it struggled to run the Android ICS operating system, making the L7 feel rather slow overall. This applies to booting up the handset, and running multiple or even single applications. In fact, the experience was a constantly frustrating one.
Why LG didn't install a dual-core processor in its top L-series model is not clear. To me, it would have made perfect sense as it's been the company's lead phone for a good part of the year, ignoring the very high-end quad-core Optimus 4X HD, which sits outside of most people's budgets.
Further affecting performance is the rather ungenerous 512MB of RAM. Why not 1GB of RAM? This would have sped things up, possibly even resolving the whole situation. The spec sheet states that there is 4GB of internal storage, but only 2.72GB is accessible. This, once again, is low for this type of phone, when considering that other similarly marketed devices will have 8GB. Even the LG Prada 3.0 phone has this amount of internal storage. You could add a 32GB card to the microSD slot, but that doesn't make up for the lack of space in the first place.
The L7 has a 5-megapixel camera, complete with LED flash, along with a 1.3-megapixel one on the front. I found the camera feed to be very responsive when moving it around to frame a shot, which was surprising considering my experience with some camera phones. Image quality was adequate (see below) and there is a good array of features, covering various image resolutions, scene modes, ISO settings, white balance and colour effects. However, the video capture setting didn't offer as many resolutions. The largest video setting was only VGA 640 x 480, for both the rear and front-facing cameras – a bit of a disappointment since I've experienced 720p video capture on similarly specced camera phones. Indeed, I was half expecting to see an 8-megapixel shooter on what is the top L Series handset.
The signal level and call quality were decent when using the Optimus L7, with a good signal obtained in all the expected locations. Calling a landline, a mobile and into voicemail offered a clear audio experience on a par with my test-comparison phone, the Samsung Galaxy S II.
The LG Optimus L7 runs version 4.0.3 of Google's Android Ice Cream Sandwich operating system. I have already stated that I found the platform too slow on the L7, and that an increase in RAM might have solved this issue. Ignoring this, it is quite a good roll out of ICS. This improvement is seen in the home screens and the way all the widgets are displayed alongside the available apps. Also included, in a non-customised way, is the Ice Cream Sandwich multi-tasking viewer, with its flip-off-the-screen method of closing running apps.
At the beginning of May, LG unveiled a new user interface that was debuted on two new mobile phones: the Optimus LTE II and LG Optimus 4X HD. This was simply known as the Optimus UI 3.0. It was left out of the L3 handset, but makes a showing here on the L7, albeit an incomplete one, as a maintenance release is due soon.
Currently, it offers the ability to unlock the phone by dragging an icon anywhere on the screen, but the forthcoming features should include a voice shutter, which enables users to take photos with a voice command, and a best-shot function that takes multiple images so you can choose the best one, even before the pressing the shutter button. There is also a new app called 'Quick Memo' for making and capturing finger-drawn notes and then sharing these 'memos' directly via social networks, text messages and e-mails. All of these should add better functionality to the L7, but as it stands today, the UI is rather bland and we have seen better.
The only applications LG has actually bundled with the phone is the Polaris Office app and the SmartShare DNLA media sharing function. There are some minor additions to the UI that are worth noting here, such as the toolbar to the web browser that offers easy navigation buttons at the base of the page; and a pinch-to-zoom ability for clearing all the home screens of widgets.
Shipping with the LG Optimus L7 is a 1,700mAH battery, while the other two phones in the L range use a 1,500mAh one. I ran down the L7's battery using a heavy usage regime where I set up two Gmail accounts (one personal and the other a Google apps version) that pulled in over 100 emails. I also installed Facebook (650 friends) and Twitter (1,650 followers) and called another phone for the duration of two hours at a time, refreshing the social networking feeds after each call.
The result: the LG Optimus L7 managed five hours, four minutes and 56 seconds worth of calls before the battery died. In my estimation, the L7 would not last a full working day with heavy use; perhaps a full working day with mid to heavy use and a single day with light use.
LG's Optimus L7 phone is a confusing affair as it looks like a premium phone and has elements of a high quality handset, but it's ultimately let down by the slow processor and lack of high performance hardware. As a result, the operating system is slow in its responsiveness. The L7 also lacks some features that are found in similar phones, such as an integrated Android set-up and an automatic brightness function.
I think the LG Prada 3.0 phone should have been the flagship model of the L series. It has many of the qualities expected from a phone that sits beneath the company's quad-core Optimus 4X HD handset – its dual-core processor being just one of them.
Manufacturer and Model: LG Optimus L7 (P700)
Network: GSM 850/900/1800/1900 HSDPA 900/2100
Processor: Single core 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon
Memory: 512MB RAM, 4GB ROM
Memory expansion: Yes
Display: 4.3in, 800 x 400 pixels
Main camera: 5-megapixel
Front camera: 1.3-megapixel
GPS: Yes (A-GPS)
Battery: 1,700 mAh
Size: 127.5 x 69 x 8.7mm
OS: Android 'Ice Cream Sandwich' 4.0.3